Human trafficking is the modern equivalent of slavery, forcing, defrauding or coercing people into labor or sexual exploitation. About 14,500 and 17,500 people – mostly women and children – are trafficked across national borders each year, and experts guess that there are 27 million slaves worldwide.
Human trafficking is a low-risk, high-profit enterprise, and because it looks to the casual observer – and even to cops- like normal prostitution, it is tolerated. And worse, it is growing.
People are snared into trafficking by any means. In some cases, physical force is used. In other cases, false promises are made regarding job opportunities or marriages in foreign countries to entrap victims.
It is easy to understand the success of the immigrant trafficking industry. People are brought here, some with visas and some without, with the promise of a new life, but then are stranded in a world where no one is looking for them. Suddenly, they are threatened with death and they are told their families back home will be killed.
They have no place to run. They are afraid of authorities. Often they are told lies about what American authorities will do. They fear Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), more than their captors. They will work in hotels and construction sites for no pay; or they are prostituted, which is far more lucrative. Their only compensation is staying alive. Others are told they must pay a debt to the ones that brought them here, but the debt only grows and is rarely ever paid off.
The U.S. government has taken a number of serious and significant actions to combat trafficking occurring state-side. A few examples of American efforts include:
- Congress passed legislation so Americans who sexually prey on children abroad can be prosecuted and sentenced to as many as 30 years in prison.
- The Department of Justice has focused on increasing the number of trafficking victims rescued and the number of prosecutions and convictions of traffickers.
- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is certifying trafficking victims so they may qualify for the same assistance available to refugees. HHS is also running a major public awareness campaign to alert victims in the U.S. that help is available through the hotline number 888-373-7888.
- The Department of Defense has implemented a zero-tolerance stand against any actions by Defense personnel that contribute to human trafficking and is instituting a service-wide mandatory training program.
- The Department of Labor and Homeland Security, USAID, and other government agencies are executing action plans to combat human trafficking.
Because human trafficking is transnational in nature, partnerships between countries are critical to win the fight against modern-day slavery. The U.S. is reaching out to other countries.
- The State Department is working extensively with governments on action plans for prevention, protection of victims, and prosecution.
- Congress recently strengthened anti-trafficking legislation and provided more than $70 million in funding worldwide for efforts to end slavery, building rehabilitation and work training centers, special housing shelters, law enforcement training, awareness campaigns, voluntary repatriation for displaced victims, and training for immigration officials, medical personnel and social workers.
Trafficking Victims Protection Act
Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000, enhanced it in 2003, and since reauthorized it. The law provides tools for the U.S. to combat trafficking in persons, both domestically and abroad.
One of the key components of the law is the creation of Trafficking in Persons Report. The State Department produced this annual reported assessing government response in each country with a significant number of victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons. Countries in the annual report are rated in tiers, based on government efforts to combat trafficking.
- Tier 1: Countries that do everything to meet the act’s minimum standards to get rid of trafficking.
- Tier 2: Countries that do not meet the minimum standards but are trying to bring themselves into compliance.
- Tier 2 Watch List: Countries on Tier 2 who need special supervision because of a high or significantly increasing number of victims; failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat trafficking in persons; or an assessment as Tier 2 based on commitments to take action over the next year.
- Tier 3: Countries that do not meet minimum standards and do not show any effort to come into compliance. Countries in this tier are subject to potential non-humanitarian and non-trade sanctions.
The 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report Tier Rankings for countries of interest:
- Tier 1 – Australia, Hong Kong SAR, New Zealand, South Korea
- Tier 2 – Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam
- Tier 2 Watch List – China, Malaysia
- Tier 3 – Burma, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria
Free the Slaves